The Secret to Surviving the Terrible Twos and Threenager Stage

The moment you find out you’re pregnant, you will start receiving all kinds of advice and warnings. Want them or not, everyone has an opinion to share. The biggest one that I heard was regarding how bad the “terrible twos” were, and how the “threenager” stage is worse than that. I lived in mortal terror of these ages. From the moment my son was born, I was dreading the second birthday deep down inside. Now that we are through age 2, and well into age 3, I have learned a secret  for surviving and I am going to share it with you.

What Exactly Are the “Terrible Twos” and “Threenager” Stages

First off, for all the newbie moms, lets talk about what these terms mean. As a new mom, I was pretty clueless to some of the language and meanings.

The “terrible twos” is a pretty common term that most are familiar with. Two seems to be the age when children start to really explore their independence, and begin to try and exert some control over their lives and surroundings. This can lead to defiant behavior. It can also lead to messes, tantrums, and endless frustration for mom and dad.

The “threenager” stage was a term that was foreign to me before becoming a mom. This term is a combination of the age of three and the word teenager. This is in reference to the tendency for children of this age to begin to exhibit behaviors usually associated with the teenage years, including sassiness, back-talk, and argumentative behavior.

Why They Are Hard Stages

Two year old children aren’t always the best communicators. Sometimes they don’t have the language skills or comprehension to be able to tell their parent or caregiver what they want or need. This can be frustrating to the child and parent.

With the desire to have more control over their world, and the inability to communicate your thoughts, it can lead to crying, whining, and tantrums. As a parent who is with her child all the time, these things can really wear on your sanity.

Three year old children have more communication skills, which can be both a blessing and a curse. At this age, your child can tell you what they want and need more clearly than before. However, toddlers don’t have the most control over their emotions. They observe and absorb everything around them, from how people interact around them, to interactions on television. They begin to mimic those things.

My theory is that this combination is why you see so much attitude from your 3 year old. They feel emotions intensely and aren’t always aware how to deal with them in an acceptable way. Also, patience isn’t a skill that most toddlers possess. They want what they want, and they want it now.

What’s the Secret?

So i told you there is a secret to surviving these stages. It’s not a secret, really. It is more of an understanding that you as a parent must have and remind yourself of constantly.

Patience and understanding. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Let me tell you, it isn’t. I’ve seen some of the best parents I know struggle at this stage. You need to understand the reasons your child is acting out, or not behaving as you’d like. Equally important is having the patience to hold onto your own frustrations, and help them work through theses stages.

How to Make it Work

Take a Breath Before Reacting

It’s very easy yo lose your cool when your child makes a huge mess, or breaks something, or starts melting down for no apparent reason. I am very guilty of being a quick-reactor. However, I have found that if you take a second to consider the situation before reacting, you will have a much more productive response to the situation.

Find a Way to Communicate

This one is tricky and will take some trial and error. The secret here is to find the method that works best for your child. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here because every child is different. Sometimes you can speak to your child in the moment. Some children respond better to being removed from the situation before talking it out. Some need to have a consequence, like a time out, to have a moment to get their feelings under control before being able to discuss the issue. Find what works for you and your child.

Listen. Really Listen.

My child is a talker. At age 3, he talks all day long from the moment he wakes until the moment he sleeps at night. With all that chatter all day every day, its easy to almost tune out what he is saying at times. However, when he gets upset or frustrated, or begins acting up, I make sure to really take the time to listen to what he’s saying and read between the lines. If he’s screaming that he wants chocolate, what he is usually saying is that he is hungry and I can offer a better alternative.

Be Prepared

Be prepared that you will have some rough days. You will have to walk your child out of a restaurant or grocery store sometimes. You will have to listen to a meltdown on occasion. I find it is best to have a game plan ahead of time. For example, if our child acts up in a restaurant or store, he goes out. If he is throwing a fit at the park, we leave. Once we were taking a walk and he was acting up, not listening, and beginning to freak out for no reason. I gave him a time out right on a neighbor’s front lawn. He stood facing their tree until he could pull himself together.

Consistency is Crucial

Another secret is that you need to be consistent. This has to apply to all caregivers or it wont be as effective. Mom and Dad have to be on the same page with how to deal with these undesirable behaviors. Grandma and Grandpa should be on board too if they are watching the child. Daycare providers need to be on board too. The more consistent you can be, the quicker your child will learn what is acceptable and what is not, and that they wont get away with acting up, no matter who is around.

You Will Survive

As with anything in parenting, you must know that this too shall pass. They call it a stage for a reason. However, it doesn’t have to be a total nightmare for years. Just remember to have patience and understanding with your child, and you can both get through this fairly unscathed.

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About Lisa Wingerter

I'm a 32 year old, married, stay-at-home-mom from the Metro Detroit area

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19 Comments on “The Secret to Surviving the Terrible Twos and Threenager Stage”

  1. My youngest is 2 1/2 and the toughest part is definitely teaching him how to navigate different emotions – anger/sad/overwhelmed/overstimulation all results in a meltdown but we’re getting through it.

    I definitely love the part about being consistent – this is so true with Little’s.

  2. I really like having the plan! I went into parenting thinking some kids are just rotten eggs and others are angels and prayed I’d get the latter. I know that was naïve and now I realize every parent has to deal with these challenging stages and moments!

    1. You are absolutely right. And those “rotten eggs” are maybe just kids who need a different approach than others. My son is no angel but he’s pretty good for being 3. He has his moments and it took a while to figure out what really worked to get through to him. Maybe I got lucky, but I prefer to believe it’s all the work we have put in to him not being a jerk lol

  3. Oh Yes, these are great tips! Honestly, these tips should be followed all through child-rearing. I’m currently raising teenagers and all of your tips are still valid. Thanks for sharing!

  4. As a mom of a 19 year old and a 17 year old I can assure, parenting is like a roller coaster! It ebs and flows sometimes in the same day! My favorite movie quote about parenting from a movie is “As hard as you thinking it’s going to be, you end up wishing it was that easy.” ~Terms of Endearment.

  5. Great tips. My best friend has kiddos around these ages! My girls are older and it’s funny how I have forgotten most of the threenager drama that I dealt with ?

  6. Great tips! I suck at patience. It’s definitely NOT one of my virtues. My son and I would butt heads all the time because I’d get so dang irritated with his reactions!

  7. This was so helpful! We are almost through the threenager stage with my son thankfully. My daughter is approaching the terrible twos so I loved these helpful reminders.

  8. I do not have children, but my nieces and nephews definitely gave a good dose of the terrible twos and threenager stage. I look forward to sharing this with my family and friends who would love the advice.

    1. Well thank you for reading and sharing. Honestly, probably half of what I learned about babies, toddlers, and kids in general came from being an aunt. Its honestly the best of both worlds. You get to be the fun one, and get all the love, without all the added stress of having to be mom.

  9. I have a two year old right now so I can completely understand this! Communication is key. I think frustration can be found on both ends when there is lack of communication.

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